EMM Labs DV2 digital converter

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EMM Labs DV2

Staying with the acronyms, the USB input features the latest iteration of the company’s MFAST (Meitner Frequency Acquisition System Technology, possibly a bit of a backronym there), which combines hardware galvanic isolation and high-speed asynchronous jitter removal. It also features MCLK2 (OK, less ‘acronym’, more ‘shorthand’), which is a master clock to further attenuate jitter. While there are no filter options open to the user, the MDAT2 algorithm adaptively switches filtering methods in real time according to the type of sounds being played-back, acting to preserve clean analogue-style transients without pre-ringing or post-ringing. Polarity inversion is available and is performed in the digital domain.

There are a range of digital inputs, including coaxial, TOSlink, AES/EBU, and EMM’s own Optilink to connect to disc-playing transports in the EMM line-up. However, USB is the most flexible of the inputs on the DV2, as the Type B input can support PCM conversion up to DXD (352.8 and 384kHz sampling rates), DSD up to DSDx2 (DSD128), and full MQA unfolding and rendering via USB 2.0. The others are only capable of DSD64 and 24 bit, 192kHz PCM replay. There is also a separate USB port for upgrades.

At a quick glance, the DV2’s VControl is not that big a deal, until you scratch deeper. Most volume controls on DACs are either some kind of volume control in the analogue domain or have used re-quantisation (‘bit-chopping’) to attenuate the signal in the digital domain. Somehow, and EMM Labs is not telling, its VControl attenuates the signal in the digital domain without re-quantisation, thereby making it possibly one of the least sonically deleterious and “completely transparent at any volume setting and has wide attenuation range”, according to EMM’s literature.

As you might expect from a high-performance, high-cost converter, the DV2 is built to a very high standard. The case looks more like a high-end integrated amplifier (with its display screen) and the electronic components – all of a suitably high grade - all sit on aerospace-grade, ceramic circuit boards. It has both balanced and single-ended analogue outputs.

A product built to this standard must set itself a high bar, and the EMM Labs DV2 doesn’t disappoint! Unlike almost every high-end digital product I’ve encountered irrespective of cost, the EMM Labs DV2 is one of the most ‘tuneful’ and ‘soulful’ digital devices I’ve heard to date. Music isn’t deconstructed and exposed as it can be on top-end digital replay; it’s played with calm authority, and a sense of smooth and satisfying coherence. Strangely, I think this is digital that sounds most like reel-to-reel, in all the right ways; that effortless sense of ‘air’ and ‘rightness’ a good open-reel can do so well is reproduced here in digital form. 

The unfatiguing nature of this DAC makes writing about it difficult in the extreme, as you start with good intentions and find yourself taken by the music. Again. So, you play a track on an album – the opening title track from Public Service Broadcasting’s The Race For Space [Test Card] and the next thing you know, you’ve just played three PSB albums in a row and made absolutely no notes. Then you do the same thing with Tasmin Little playing the Elgar Violin Concerto [Chandos SACD]; pretty soon you find yourself working your way through to Bax and Finzi and you’re lost in music again.

Eventually, you begin to force yourself away from enjoying the music and start to focus on the performance. It has some of the best bass in the business but doesn’t shout about it. My torture Trentemøller track ‘Chameleon’ [The Last Resort, Poker Flat] serves up gut-pummelling bass lines at times, and the DV2 played them with speed, precision, and majestic depth. Where this becomes most noticeable is when the music gets complex, as it can tend to shut down the sound; you get good bass or good stereo; rarely get both at the same time to the same extent. The DV2 ticks this box perfectly. In fact, soundstage space – which should be a function of other parts of the system if conventions are to be believed – was the most highlighted improvement it brings to a system. There was a sense of true three-dimensionality to the sound even of the Rolling Stones [Stripped, Polydor], which is often just a tight bolus of sound. Of course, you need a good system to show just how much the DV2 is giving you!

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